If you build it, they will come…Then you have to maintain it!

by Tom Lamb Categories // Outdoor Adventures

If you build it, they will come…Then you have to maintain it!

When hiking the Appalachian Trail in Maine in 2004, my son, Murray, and I were traversing the “100 Mile Wilderness,” the longest stretch of the trail between roads. In the middle, we ran across a crew, 50 miles from the closest paved road, busting boulders into gravel to fix the trail. Talking with them made me realize that, though I had been involved in trail building for over 30 years, it had never occurred to me that the trail required regular and intense maintenance.

Upon returning to Georgia, I researched and found the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club. This group of volunteers, under contract with the National Park Service, is responsible for the management of the AT, to maintain every mile in Georgia. The AT, 2,200 miles long, is maintained by volunteers. Every mile has an overseer and I have been assigned a one mile section between Woody Gap and Gooch Gap.

So what is involved? It’s just a footpath in the woods, right? The answer is not so simple. Every year, more than 10 million people hike on the Appalachian Trail. That translates to lots of wear and tear. Every time it rains, water erodes the treadway. Every time an old tree gives it up or a storm blows through, there are deadfalls across the path.

In late February and early March each year, overseers are expected to get the trail in good shape for the coming thousands of thru hikers that are headed from Georgia to Maine. The path is checked for any winter blowdowns; the drainages and paths to route water off of the trail have to be cleaned out of siltation and vegetation; and dams and water bars --devices to route water to the drains -- must be checked and repaired. Then in summer, the weeds that grow up in the sunshine exposed pathway must be cut. Weed eating two miles of weeds (a mile on either side) is quite intensive! In between these two big jobs is the regular checking and small repairs.

All of this is done by volunteers, some of whom live a couple of hours travel from the trail. The National Park Service reports every year that tens of thousands of volunteers donate hundreds of thousands of hours, worth millions of dollars, to the upkeep of the AT.

Several AT trail overseers live in Lumpkin County and Dahlonega. Jason Gotch is the supervisor for section 4, comprised of 11 one mile sections from Hightower Gap to Woody Gap. Tom Lamb maintains section 4.10, Grassy Gap Road to Ramrock Mountain. Roger Roy maintains section 4.3, Horse Gap to Sassafrass Mountain.

In addition to the AT, most other trails on federal and state lands are also maintained by volunteer clubs. Yahoola Outdoors, a local outdoor club, maintains the Dockery Lakeshore Trail that goes around Dockery Lake.

If you would like to learn to take care of our trail resources, contact Yahoola Outdoors at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to find out when the next maintenance trip takes place.

About the Author

Tom Lamb

Tom Lamb

Tom Lamb is a retired 36 year teacher and avid outdoorsman. He moved to Dahlonega 13 years ago to live in the heart of hiking, backpacking, and whitewater boating country. He is the chairman of the Dahlonega Trail Fest and active in Yahoola Outdoors and a member of the Dahlonega-Lumpkin County Tourism Committee.

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